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Getting home from Cyprus – part one

When I was away last weekend with my friends at the Pudding Club, they were asking me about my holiday to Cyprus over Christmas. And that made me remember that, although I’d alluded on this blog to the fact that I’d had trouble getting back home, I’d never actually written down the whole story.

We had an evening flight home, which was good as it gave us all pretty much an extra full day in Kyrenia. We were told to be at the hotel at 16:00 for our pick-up back to the airport, and that we’d be travelling in a convoy of two people-carriers, as the streets in the Old Town are too small for anything bigger. All bar one of us was getting the evening flight back to Gatwick, but there was one woman who hadn’t taken the group flights, but had booked her own ticket back to Heathrow. Strictly speaking, she should have made her own arrangements to get to the airport, but since her flight was only 30 minutes before that of the group, she decided to save herself the taxi fare and come along with us.

She started getting twitchy when the taxis were late to meet us at the hotel, and her comfortable checking in-time started getting eaten in to. She then got increasingly more stressed throughout the drive to the airport. We were flying from Larnaca, which is on the south (Greek) side of the island, so we had to cross the international border through one of only a few official crossing points. On the way out, we’d breezed through a checkpoint somewhere around the back of Nicosia, which was pretty much on the direct route between Larnaca airport and our hotel in Kyrenia. So naturally, we assumed that we’d be going back the same way, and were quite surprised when we headed off to the East, clearly going away from Nicosia and in fact heading towards Ercan airport in the north of the country. Our driver spoke very little English, and none of us spoke Turkish, so we really struggled to establish the fact that he was indeed taking us to Larnaca (and thankfully not Ercan), but was avoiding the border crossing in Nicosia as it would be very busy at rush hour. Instead we were going to use the other crossing, near Famagusta, which would be much less busy.

That sounded sensible, but really stressed out Heathrow-woman, as Famagusta is over on the east coast, and it was a very long detour to avoid Nicosia. She got even more stressed when our taxi pulled over in the middle of nowhere and waited for several minutes to let the second car in the convoy catch up with us. But that was nothing to her stress levels when we finally reached the border crossing. A very bored Turkish-Cypriot guard let us out of the north with minimal formalities, and we crossed the Zone of Separation to be met by a very officious Greek Cypriot customs officer defending the borders of the EU. He asked us lots of questions about what we had bought, whether we had been given anything to carry with us, and where we were going next. At which point she exploded “I’ve got a plane to catch in less than an hour!”. He then took pity on us and waved us on our way – but the other car in the convoy was less fortunate. We passed them pulled over in an inspection bay having all their luggage removed for searching! It turned out that one of the men had confessed to buying several hundred cigarettes, thinking that since he was flying home from one EU country to another that would be fine. He hadn’t taken into account that he had actually bought them outside the EU, and was therefore importing illegal quantities of duty-free cigarettes across the EU border!

There are two clear lessons there. Firstly, if you’re not getting the group flights, you take a severe risk with your stress levels if you don’t take charge of your own transfer arrangements. And secondly, make sure you know where the EU border is, and what the duty free limits are when crossing it!

We all made it to Larnaca airport on time, with even stressed Heathrow-woman managing to get to the check-in before it closed. But that was not the end of the complications…..